Monthly Archives: September 2013

Review: The IT Crowd – The Internet Is Coming

THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY WRITTEN FOR THE VELVET ONION.

It can’t have escaped your attention that The IT Crowd returns for a one-off special on Friday, September 27th.  The first – and most likely final – episode since 2010 airs at 9pm, as part of a whole night devoted to the beloved sitcom, and TVO has been lucky enough to see the results.

Here, then, is our spoiler-free preview…

© Hal Shinnie

© Hal Shinnie

As the cast of Not The Nine O’Clock News once famously sang, saying ‘Kinda Lingers’ and then walking away is, at least, better than saying goodbye, “cos goodbye is the hardest word to say”.  The ethos of this enthuses The Internet Is Coming, the final episode of seminal cult comedy The IT Crowd.

Beginning in 2006, the show saw Father Ted creator Graham Linehan take his love of technology and internet culture, and transpose it upon three hapless heroes – shambolic Roy (Chris O’Dowd), uber-nerd Moss (Richard Ayoade) and hapless Jen (Katherine Parkinson).  Much like his earlier work on …Ted and Black Books, the show took it’s central trio into increasingly silly situations, keeping their characters just on the right side of two-dimensional to be believable and adorable, without ever spoiling the winning formula.

That the family also included a deranged boss – first Chris Morris as Denholm, later Matt Berry as Douglas – and occasionally depressed goth Richmond (Noel Fielding) – just helped sweeten the deal.  The characters were loud enough to understand on first viewing, and the performances matched the pitch perfect scripts.  It’s hard to argue the show isn’t one of the highlights of the last decade, and propelled it’s three leads to superstardom.

© Hal Shinnie

© Hal Shinnie

And that was the problem – it’s taken four years to get them back together for one last hurrah because O’Dowd, Ayoade and Parkinson have become megastars, and rightly so.  Yet in spite of this, The Internet Is Coming never feels awkward, or even that there’s been such a long break since they were together on screen.  To all intents and purposes, this is business as usual.

The plot, from what little we can reveal, concerns the usual social faux-pas which the gang typically find themselves in.  This time around, Jen and Roy accidentally find themselves the star of a viral video when a trip to get a good cup of coffee ends disastrously, while Moss turns to Douglas to ‘shoot-the-shit’ and find new levels of confidence, and Douglas does his best to get out of filming an episode of Secret Millionaire.

© Hal Shinnie

© Hal Shinnie

Each character gets a chance to shine, with Moss’ shopping trip and subsequent street encounter in particular standing out as easily being one of the funniest things the show has ever put on screen.  Part of the fun with Linehan’s sitcom work has often been how obviously he signposts the tropes of sitcom expectations, whilst also ensuring the ride towards the obvious outcome becomes the real surprise, and that’s particularly the case with Roy and Jen’s attempts at redemption via a nifty presentation.

Elsewhere, Linehan’s gift for satirical spoofing shows no signs of slacking.  Graham knows the internet well, and uses this knowledge to his advantage across Moss’ new web show, jokes about viral videos and a cheeky dig at online-anarchists Anonymous.  There’s also a short but sweet celebrity cameo that raises a quick titter, and of course, a certain other character makes a charming, albeit brief return following a tiny spot of nudging and nurdling and being in the right place at the right time.

Throw in enough gentle callbacks to previous episodes, including a truth which proves shocking to one character in particular – and a final scene that offers a few small morsels of closure for Roy, Moss and Jen, and we’re left with a warm glow inside.  Sure, the nature of the plot means there are precious few scenes of the whole gang in one place, and perhaps there will be some out there who long for something on a larger scale, but somehow this seems as close to perfect as it could get, and by not dwelling on the goodbyes, the IT department can kinda linger, forever more.

Review: Placebo – Loud Like Love

THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED BY MUSIC NEWS.

Placebo - Loud Like Love - Almost two decades into their career, Placebo could quite easily rest on their laurels, safe in the knowledge that their army of loyal followers will swallow more of the same every few years. That the band have continued to grow and expand their sound into fresh territory with each successive release appears to have lost them as many so-called die-hard fans as they gain. Yet with Loud Like Love, they may have finally got the balance just right.

This is an album that manages, at times, to hark back to the melancholy nature of their earlier work, whilst combining it with the passion and drive that their last long player, 2009’s Battle For The Sun had in abundance. It also manages to do that rare thing for a band on their seventh album, let alone their nineteenth year: it goes places Placebo have never gone before.

It’s not perfect. The title track’s over-poetic, Bowie-esque lyrics would sound drab even if David Bowie was singing them, and a handful of songs are over-long and repetitive – Begin The End, we’re looking right at you, here. And those who have poured scorn over Brian Molko’s simplistic lyrics on a number of big hits will have a field day with tracks likeRob The Bank, which trades any requirements for complexity with throbbing guitars, bass and drums that will make it a live favourite regardless.

When the album works, though, it’s an utter delight, and that’s thankfully for 80% of its run-time. Scene Of The Crime offers a throwback to former glories, before a dance-influenced breakdown and swelling vocal harmonies take it into a completely new space. Similarly, the percussion on Exit Woundsshowcases drummer Steve Forrest’s youthful vitality, and sounds like nothing the band have ever attempted before. By the time what can only be described as the “dancey synths of madness” kick in, it’s clear this is a band who refuse to stand still when there’s new avenues to explore.

Production across the whole album is a triumph, with Purify standing out by utilising Molko’s distorted vocal almost as another instrument, throbbing around the electronic-twinging and frenetic drumming without ever being lost within it. Be it Stefan Olsdal’s piano work on grand finale Bosco, Forrest’s vibrant drumming on Too Many Friends or Molko’s increasingly down-beat vocals throughout, the results are crisp and spacious, whilst somehow enveloping.

And when Molko is seemingly being so honest and autobiographical, it’s exactly what the band need. Hold On To Me offers beautiful string arrangements to complement the singer’s suggestions that he is “a small and gentle man who carries the world upon his shoulders”. It’s hard to tell if this, or his farewells to lost love on A Million Little Pieces or Bosco are just Brian playing games with his followers rather than genuinely opening up to them, but the results are breathtaking nonetheless.

And if all this sounds too pretentious, there’s always lead single Too Many Friends to savour. It’s tongue in cheek warnings about the rise of social media and gadget obsessions feel increasingly relevant as we prepare for the madness of yet another boring iPhone launch. There’s something inherently brilliant, and oh so Placebo about the lyric: “My computer thinks I’m gay/What’s the difference anyway/When all the people do all day/Is stare into a phone?” Marvellous.

With a big anniversary looming, it would have been so much easier for Placebo to plod into a studio, knock out a few Nancy Boy rip-offs and collect the pay-check. That they are still so adamant to avoid doing exactly that is a testament to their devotion to making music their own way.

Most critics will remain forever dismissive, when the same album by another band who are more ‘of-the-moment’ would garner rave reviews. It may be four years since their last album, but it’s been more than worth the wait, and hopefully music lovers free from adhering to trendy misconceptions will agree wholeheartedly.

Loud Like Love is released on Monday, 16th September. Placebo host a live YouTube special on Monday evening via their official channel. Watch the video for Too Many Friends below.

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Review: Hannah Rodgers – I Wake

THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED BY MUSIC NEWS.

Hannah Rodgers - I Wake - It’s rare for a debut single to completely envelop you, like a good bubble bath on a cold winter’s night. Yet as the Autumnal leaves begin to fall, and the days get increasingly shorter, that’s exactly what Hannah Rodgers debut single,I Wake, feels like.

Like the best work of Sigur Ros, the stripped backing track, with its gentle guitar work and synth-drenched echoing multiplexes is immersive, yet never stands in the way of Rodgers smooth vocals.

Hannah’s voice is pure and simple. There’s no moulding here, and it’s always refreshing to hear someone being who they are, without any bravado or swagger.

The feeling is of someone at one with themselves, and their craft, and in today’s harsh world, sometimes that’s exactly what we all need to hear.

I Wake is available on SoundCloud now. You can see a music video for the track below.


Review: To Be Frank – Nothing EP

THIS REVIEW WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED BY MUSIC NEWS.

To Be Frank - Half The Man EP - Earlier this year, producer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist To Be Frank scored cult hits with If You Love Her andNothing. Neither track bothered the charts much, but both became firm radio favourites and established Frank Pescodas one to watch.

November sees Pescod return with his third release, the Half The Man EP. It’s title track comes in two variations: both more upbeat and immediate than its predecessors. An energetic, entirely synthesized backing track contrasts well with Frank’s down-beat, heart-felt vocal.

As to be expected from an experienced producer, it’s mixed to perfection, with the vocal clarity up front and shining, which becomes all the more impressive on the alternative mix, featuring soul singer Sam Scott, whose delivery belts out of the speakers like Black Box never went away.

Supporting track Play is a more brooding soundscape like we’ve heard from Frank before, led by an old-time piano riff that follows through into the more electric Show Me The Way. The latter continues that Depeche Mode vibe that is has been present previously, but adds a falsetto chorus and rnb groove that creates an odd yet addictive fresh vibe.

Rounding things off is the track which started it all – debut single If You Love Her. An ethereal vocal with minimal, driving accompaniment, the song was a YouTube smash earlier this year, and any chance for it to get more exposure, the better. Is it time for To Be Frank to be a superstar, yet?

Half The Man EP is released digitally on November 4th. You can see the video for If You Love Her below, and catch our interview with Frank here.